The Things Fear Can Do
The point, for me, of doing this blog has been to show the ‘average’ person what it is like to adopt and train a mustang. Not everyone is a highly skilled and experienced horse trainer, though if you’re lucky you can have one nearby to help you during the sticky times! But many of us out here have some experience, lots of desire, limited time, jobs, families, what-have-you. I always wondered if it was possible for an ‘average’ busy horseperson to make this work. And I think it it is – but not everything is a fairy-tale. Sometimes we have to deal with our fear, so I decided not to leave that part out of this blog.
Ezekiel and I ended last week really ready to step up and move on to bigger and better things. Really – Zeke has become so bored in the roundpen that he barely puts forth any effort at all to move forward! After all, if there’s no where to go, why be in a hurry to get there? We still go there first for a short warm-up and so I can canter in the smaller space, but then we head up to the wood arena.
Up there, Zeke is engaged, he’s bright, he steps more quickly and looks around. He watches the other horses in the arena with us. He watches…well, so many things that he forgets I’m there! So when he sees someone standing on the ground and decides he should avoid them by bending his body away from them, turning his head to them to see what they might do, and totally blowing off his rider (me), something needs to be done.
I am trying like crazy to remember to always use my leg, not the reins, to keep his body moving in the direction I’ve asked him to go. If he bulges and drifts to the right, I need to pop him with that right leg to send him back straight. But the truth is, even if I whack him hard, he’s starting to ignore me. So Cindy suggested it’s time to try a little spur or crop, to get him to be responsive to my cues. It’s like a kid who learns that his parent will tell him to go to bed six times before he really has to go – why listen the first time if you have five more chances? With a little stronger aid, he should get the point more quickly, and realize there are consequences. That’s how you teach him to respond correctly the first time.
So today we tried out a little spur, because in the past I have taken the end of my reins and given him a slap when he didn’t listen to my leg – and his response was to leap out of his skin! I thought a spur might work better than a crop to wake him up without ‘upsetting’ him. Yes, I’ve begun to worry about upsetting him. That’s a bad sign.
Zeke’s been so good, and we’re doing so well, that I’m falling back into that ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude. If I don’t push him, we’ll never have a bad incident. Of course, we’ll never accomplish anything either! So I donned my tiny spurs, and down to the roundpen we went to gauge his reaction to them.
It wasn’t pretty. We bopped along slowly as normal, and then I asked him to turn and move off my leg. He ignored me, so I popped him a little harder (let’s face it, I was afraid to get him with the spur, so I gave him another chance!). When he blew me off, I took that tiny spur and gave him a poke. Wee! He turned real fast then! He also jumped forward and kicked out with both hind legs, then proceeded to try to run off while I held him to a small circle until he relaxed. Then we continued on with our work, and wonder of wonders, he did well! He even cantered around the roundpen several times without my having to flap my legs and kiss at him over and over. So we moved up to the wood arena.
As soon as we got there, I realized Cindy was working a young horse in the small roundpen next to us. For the work she was doing, it was necessary for her to crack the lunge whip. Often. So we ended up in yet another tizzy.
I can’t blame Zeke for this, because up until I got on, I had asked him to MOVE every time he heard the whip. I also asked him to pay attention to the person standing in the center of the arena, which explains why he avoids people standing around. There’s no reason to think that once you’ve trained these behaviors, the horse will just know you don’t want him to respond to them anymore, because you’re on his back. It’s the rider’s job to convince him of that fact, and today I fell way short!
I have to admit I just wanted to leave that arena as soon as we got there. I knew I shouldn’t, so I tried to keep riding, but every crack of the whip sent Zeke to a bolt that I had to pull him around into a little circle to stop. My job was to let him see that he didn’t have to listen or fear anything that was happening outside of our little bubble, that any reaction he had would just be ended and our work resumed. Instead, I let that fear creep into my head. What if I can’t stop him? What if he keeps running, all the way back to his herd in Ridgecrest? What if he bucks all the way around the arena? Basically, what if I lose control and get hurt?
Well, that’s why we’re in an arena. He can only go so far. He’s never offered to buck, and if I stick to my guns and start working him and keeping his brain focused on what I ask, I should be able to keep control. But…
Yeah, it was a tough day for me. I had to keep going, because Cindy heard me say I wanted to leave and she brought up the point that he would never learn not to leave, and to listen to me and ignore the world if we didn’t start now. So I spent more time than I’d like to snatching at my reins, leaning forward and riding like a scared child, basically.
Luckily, these little mustangs are pretty forgiving. We worked through it, and I finally relaxed, and today we did our first canter in the wood arena. And I’m determined to go back tomorrow and do a better job of being the fearless leader, so he can become my fearless steed.